During my musical career, I have had a few opportunities to be involved in performing for theatrical productions in on-stage bands. Whether it was Cole Porter’s Anything Goes or the musical adaptation of Eudora Welty’s The Robber Bridegroom, it was a delight to be part of the world of the theater for a few weeks.
Mystery fans who want to immerse themselves in the theater can do no better than taking up Edward Marston‘s witty crime series set in the playhouses and traveling companies of the Elizabethan period. Nicholas Bracewell is the bookholder and manager of Lord Westfield’s Men, a troupe of London players. Marston excels at capturing the internal workings of a theater company. Bracewell has his hands full dealing with a philandering lead actor who thinks that he is God’s gift not only to the stage but also to women. He is in constant conflict with the company’s comedian, who sees nothing wrong with having a jig or two in the middle of the darkest tragedy, anything to show off his comic skills. There is also a playwright who suffers ongoing bouts of insecurity and whom Bracewell must continually support. Bracewell is also responsible for the company’s boys who play the women’s roles in the shows.
If all of this was not enough for the beleaguered bookholder, there is also the constant competition between theater companies for patronage and prestige. Stolen plays, sabotaged performances, and even violence all keep Bracewell on his toes. Fortunately, Bracewell can handle more than just squabbling actors and cut-throat competitors. He also excels at uncovering dark secrets that threaten London society. In the opening novel, Lord Westfield’s Men are unwittingly drawn into an assassination plot, and Bracewell must defend their integrity and save the queen’s head.
Marston has a sharp eye for period details and a solid understanding of the Elizabethan theater, and he puts both to good use here. He also has a fine ear for dialogue, and the banter between the players is delightful. Both London and the English countryside are well-depicted, as Lord Westfield’s Men occasionally have to take to the road to eke out a living. Marston does a fine job of illuminating the precarious life of those who would take to the stage. The turbulent politics of Queen Elizabeth’s court are also ably depicted, and historical characters are liberally interspersed with fictional ones. If you like Shakespeare or revel in Tudor or Elizabethan history, you will find a lot to enjoy in these stories.
Check the WRL catalog for The Queen’s Head